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Iran blamed for oil-tanker attack

U.S., U.K. join Israel in denouncing drone strike off Oman by The Associated Press | August 2, 2021 at 4:52 a.m.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The United States and the United Kingdom joined Israel on Sunday in alleging Iran carried out a fatal drone strike on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, putting further pressure on Tehran as it denied being involved in the assault.

Calling it a "unlawful and callous attack," British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the Thursday night strike on the oil tanker Mercer Street. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken soon followed, saying there was "no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behavior."

The strike on the Mercer Street marked the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal. The Mercer Street, owned by Japan's Taihei Kaiun Co., is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group.

While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called suicide drones in attacks previously, which crash into targets and detonate their explosive payloads. However, Israel, the U.K. and the responding U.S. Navy have yet to show physical evidence from the strike or offer intelligence information on why they blame Tehran.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went further than Blinken and Raab in his remarks Sunday at a Cabinet meeting, making a point to stare directly into the camera and slowly warn: "We know, at any rate, know how to convey the message to Iran in our own way."

The drone attack blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker's bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel, a U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as an investigation into the attack still was ongoing. The blast killed two crew members from the United Kingdom and Romania.

The Navy said the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher had escorted the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port. On Sunday, satellite-tracking information from MarineTraffic.com showed the tanker stopped off the coast of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

In his statement, Raab said it was "highly likely" Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones.

"We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law by Iran," he said. "Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law."

Blinken similarly described the U.S. as "confident" Iran carried out the attack, using multiple drones.

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the allegation Iran carried out the attack as "baseless."

"It's not the first time that the Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem has made such empty accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran," Khatibzadeh said.

From Jerusalem, Bennett offered condolences to both the United Kingdom and Romania for the killing of their citizens. He said Israeli intelligence had evidence linking Iran to the attack, but did not offer it.

Other Israel-linked ships have been targeted in recent months as well amid a shadow war between the two nations, with Israeli officials blaming the Islamic Republic for the assaults. Shipping in the region began being targeted in the summer of 2019, about a year after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.

Israel, meanwhile, has been suspected of conducting a series of major attacks in Iran and on Iranian shipping. Also, Iran saw its largest warship recently sink under mysterious circumstances in the nearby Gulf of Oman.

The attack marks the first major confrontation with Iran for Bennett, who took over as premier in June after a coalition deal unseated Israel's long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Information for this article was contributed by Isabel DeBre, Ilan Ben Zion and Josef Federman of The Associated Press.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is spoken to as he attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is spoken to as he attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, August 1, 2021. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, August 1, 2021. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors assigned to an explosive ordnance unit board an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to head to an oil tanker that was attacked off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea on Friday, July 30, 2021. An attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire killed two crew members off Oman in the Arabian Sea, authorities said Friday, marking the first fatalities after years of assaults targeting shipping in the region. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Quinton A. Lee/U.S. Navy, via AP)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors assigned to an explosive ordnance unit board an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to head to an oil tanker that was attacked off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea on Friday, July 30, 2021. An attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire killed two crew members off Oman in the Arabian Sea, authorities said Friday, marking the first fatalities after years of assaults targeting shipping in the region. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Quinton A. Lee/U.S. Navy, via AP)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors on board an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan prepare to head to an oil tanker that was attacked off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea on Friday, July 30, 2021. An attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire killed two crew members off Oman in the Arabian Sea, authorities said Friday, marking the first fatalities after years of assaults targeting shipping in the region. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Quinton A. Lee/U.S. Navy, via AP)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors on board an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan prepare to head to an oil tanker that was attacked off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea on Friday, July 30, 2021. An attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire killed two crew members off Oman in the Arabian Sea, authorities said Friday, marking the first fatalities after years of assaults targeting shipping in the region. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Quinton A. Lee/U.S. Navy, via AP)
This Jan. 2, 2016 photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. The oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire reportedly came under attack off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, authorities said Friday, July 30, 2021, as details about the incident remained few. (Johan Victor via AP)
This Jan. 2, 2016 photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. The oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire reportedly came under attack off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, authorities said Friday, July 30, 2021, as details about the incident remained few. (Johan Victor via AP)

Print Headline: Iran blamed for oil-tanker attack

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